123play ad-funded mobile games site launches properly

And its founder is promising quality over quantity

123play ad-funded mobile games site launches properly
There's no shortage of companies touting ad-funded mobile games as the Next Big Thing, but there are concerns about the quality of many of the games being offered on their portals.

European firm Mobile Advertising Solutions has just entered the market with its 123play portal - you may remember we took a sneak peek at its beta version last month. Publishers on board include THQ Wireless, Digital Chocolate, Hands-On Mobile and RealArcade.

Well, it's launching today properly, having added games from Vivendi Games Mobile and Player X. However, it's still presenting a focused selection of games (around 40), rather than the hundreds offered by some of its rivals.

"We are focusing on quality, not quantity," says CEO Markus Råmark

"We don't believe that offering hundreds of poor-quality games is the right approach. All the games that we distribute need to be top quality and have a high replay value, otherwise there is no value to our advertisers. Big brands don't want to advertise with poor games and questionable content."

The portal doesn't offer any games with adult material, bad language or violence, and 123play isn't allowing adult sites to advertise within the games, to make the publishers it works with feel at ease.

So why launch now? Like his rivals, Råmark thinks it's the right time to be rolling out the ad-funded model for mobile games. "With mobile such a great mechanism to share and distribute content, ad-funded was always a 'when' rather than an 'if'," he says.

"The mobile games industry at large is in need of new revenue streams and new effective distribution channels, and advertisers are also looking for new effective channels to reach their target groups."

123play's games are already hosting ads from the likes of Britvic, eBay, The Sun and NME, appearing before and after you play a game, with the option to click through either time. Råmark says brands are keen to get involved.

"It's accepted that within a few years, mobile will leapfrog online as the most immediate way to reach an audience," says Råmark. "I think that as we reach the end of 2008 we will see this channel as a key part of any company or brand's mobile strategy."

Although it's early days, Råmark says that 'click-to-browse' adverts have been working well on 123play, although he stresses that the adverts must match the profile of the average mobile gamer - "things that focus on lifestyle and having fun".

He says clickthrough rates have been good so far (sorry, no actual numbers), but also says that games are also a good vehicle for pure brand awareness campaigns, due to the amount of time and attention that advertisers can capture.

So what games are working particularly well? It's the casual titles - something that's reflected by other ad-funded companies I've talked to.

"Games like Solitaire, Bowling and Minesweeper are perfect examples of games that work really well in an ad-funded model," says Råmark, referring to their replay value.

"One game can easily generate the same amount of income for a publisher as the pay-per-download model can, if the game is good quality and the replay value is high."

Publishers appear to be taking a mixed approach, with some offering their newest games through 123play, and others choosing to offer archive titles.

Råmark accepts that operator portals are still the main focus for publishers, but thinks sites like 123play can offer complementary long-term revenue-generating potential once games stop being promoted on the operator decks.

"Smart publishers understand that this combination of short, sharp downloads [from the operator portals] and slow and steady ad-funded is the way to get as much value as possible from the content they create," he says.

That's not to say he doesn't see the operators as competition for 123play.

"Where MAS tries to be different is by offering consumers only the very best ad-funded free games from the industry's best game publishers. I'd say that we have a better selection than some mobile operators have."

Meanwhile, he says the next step for 123play could be to introduce more community features, such as user ratings.
Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)